A lonely road - Luke 24:13-35
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The year was 627AD. The place, Northumbria, North East England. Edwin, King of Northumbria had convened a meeting of his top officials and elders. His wife had just become a Christian, an extraordinary thing to do in those Dark Ages, and Edwin was concerned as to what he should do. Should he follow suit and lead his county into this foreign religion. Or should he put paid to it straight away. A number rose to speak in turn, including an certain nobleman who delivered a speech of powerful eloquence. "Your Majesty," he said. "When we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winters day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies in swiftly through one door of the hall, and out through the other. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. In this way, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing."
Well this noblemans speech is a striking illustration of what many people think about life. There is darkness and nothingness before, a brief light in the middle, and then darkness again. Life is lived within a trapped room. We can do our best to examine the room, and find out everything there is to know, and yet the room is all we can know. Beyond that we can know absolutely nothing. And that is the depressing conclusion of many people who live in this world. But what if there was someone who had been into the room next door. And not only that, what if that person had actually come back to tell us about it. Then we could be sure, then we could know with certainty that there is something beyond this life.
Well the events in a small town in the Middle East some two thousand years ago have changed millions of lives forever more. Because the claim is that someone has actually passed through to that next room and come back to tell us. And of course the person who made that claim is none other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Christian claim is that because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we can have certainty about the events that befall us after death. And if that claim is right, then the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the most important events in human history.
And that was the conclusion that the followers of Jesus came to all those years ago. But the amazing thing about the resurrection stories is that not only do they hold water and are believable, but they are told by hard nosed sceptics, people like ourselves who would be very unwilling to be duped. These were tough fishermen, there was a sharp-minded tax collector, a paramilitary soldier, and others who were very unlikely to be conned. And it is their story that Luke is relating in chapter 24 of his gospel. And as we come to the second of these amazing stories well find two more followers at their wits end, crushed by the death of Jesus, never expecting his resurrection, and yet at the end of their journey they are completely transformed. Why? Because theyve met the risen Jesus. So lets see what evidence Luke gives us for the resurrection from this story.
1) The Evidence of the Empty Tomb (vv 13-24)
2) The Evidence of the Old Testament (vv 25-27)
3) The Evidence of Personal Experience (vv 28-35)
1) The Evidence of the Empty Tomb (vv 13-24)
So first, then, there is the evidence of the empty tomb. Let me just fill you in on the details of the story. This story in verses 13-35 of Luke 24 is only in Luke, and it is a very special and personal story. The two walkers are a man called Cleopas, who was said to be Jesus uncle, the brother of Joseph, and another person, possibly Cleopas wife, or some have thought Luke himself. And these two are walking away from Jerusalem on that first Sunday to a little village some seven miles away called Emmaus. It would have taken them a few hours, and perhaps longer than usual since they were very depressed and deep in discussion. Luke tells us in verse 14 that they were discussing everything that had happened over the last few days, no doubt Jesus arrest, the mock trial and the crucifixion. And as they are talking and walking a stranger comes up to them, probably walking from Jerusalem as well. And he asks them what they are discussing. And they cant quite believe hes so ignorant. "Are you the only one living in Jerusalem who doesnt know the things that have happened there in these days?" they ask. Jesus death was big news. The whole city was alight with excitement. You cant have failed to miss it.
I remember when Princess Diana died in August 1997, I was in America. And we heard some of the details from the news broadcasts in the States, but what we had not been prepared for was the huge impact it had had in this country. And when I came back into the country a few weeks later, it was as if I was a alien. I was completely oblivious to all that had happened and the amount of fervour that was shown over her death. And it seemed this stranger was in the same boat. He seemed very unaware of the events of Jesus trial and death. So Cleopas tells the stranger. Verse 19: "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didnt find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women said, but him they did not see."
Now this little speech of Cleopas is very revealing. Its as if these disciples are trying to piece together a mystery. And they have all the facts at their disposal. They know that Jesus was a great man who did amazing things. And they know that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel. And they know for sure that Jesus was dead. No-one can deny that. Even pagan writers agree with them on that one and the other facts. But one fact bugs them. There is no body. Where is Jesus? The tomb is empty. And there has to be a reason. No-one could have stolen the body since there were guards on the door, and the authorities could have produced the body if they had moved it for some reason. Also it is very clear the disciples were in no fit state to do anything. The women mentioned in the previous passage werent going to find a resurrection, they were going to anoint a dead body. And these two are completely distraught. All their hopes were pinned on Jesus. They though he was the one who was going to redeem them. They had such high hopes when he triumphantly rode into Jerusalem. It all seemed so wonderful. And now just a few days later, all those dreams lie in tatters. And yet one thing bugs them. The empty tomb. And they are confused.
And if you are going to try and deny the Christian faith, then you cannot deny the empty tomb. Rather you have got to come up with a solution to why it was empty. It always fascinating around Easter time to see the numbers of programmes claiming to tell us the truth about the resurrection. The latest has been the Son of God by Jeremy Bowen. In many ways it has been very good, though when it came to the resurrection, it began to fall down. Jeremy Bowen could not deny that the tomb was empty. And he had to suggest all sorts of crazy ideas to show what happened. The most daft was the Jesus was not dead, but really was given a herbal remedy which made him look dead. Such ideas have been floated around for years, and each time they have been rubbished. And the empty tomb is a stubborn fact that simply cannot be denied. Christianity is rooted in historical truth. Thats why when you have doubts we can go back to history. No other religion can do that. Jesus was a living person who died and rose again. And the empty tomb is the first piece of evidence for the resurrection.
2) The Evidence of the Old Testament (vv 25-27)
But secondly there is the evidence of the Old Testament. You see the problem for Cleopas and his friend was not lack of evidence. Weve seen that there is evidence. Rather they cannot see what it means. They even have this angelic message about Jesus actually being alive, and they remember that Jesus said something about the third day, and yet they still dont get it. I love watching detective programmes, and my favourite is Morse. And for much of the time, Morse is confused. There are the facts of the case which he regales his poor sidekick Lewis with. And yet he cannot see the connection. He is blinded to the truth. But the facts of the case are clear. And the facts of this case are very clear. And yet still they dont see. And that is why the stranger rebukes them in verse 25: " How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" His point is that they should have understood because they had the answer right under their noses. If theyd read their Bibles properly, they would have seen that not only would the Messiah die, but that he would rise again. It was all there, but they hadnt seen it. You see their problem was that they had read selectively. They believed that the Messiah would be the sort of Messiah to come and beat up the occupying Romans and bring freedom to the land once more. They wanted all the glory now. But what they failed to see was the in order for the Messiah to get the glory, he had first to go through death. He had to die. And of course when Jesus did die, then they were absolutely devastated. They thought it was all over. What they failed to see was that it had only just begun.
Now this shouldnt have been anything new. Jesus had told them at least three times that he would have to suffer and die before rising again. He had no choice. It was something he had to do if he was to fulfil his mission. That word "must" is very important in Lukes gospel. It reveals that the cross as well as the resurrection was part of the divine plan. And if they had seen that then they would have been expected for the Messiahs death and resurrection. So Jesus begins to explain the whole story. He actually begins the very first bible overview in history on the road to Emmaus, and tells these bewildered disciples what scripture really is all about- It's actually about Jesus, the Christ, literally the Anointed One, the Messiah. Verse 27: "And beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself." Now to the Hebrew mind, Moses meant the first five books of the Bible, Genesis- Deuteronomy; the Prophets were split into two, the former prophets (Joshua- 2 Kings) and the latter prophets ( Isaiah- Malachi). That just leaves the Writings, that is Psalms and Wisdom literature and a few other historical books. So Luke says that Jesus began with Moses, that is Genesis, went through the Prophets and then went into the rest of scripture. If we think about it, it is remarkable. Jesus doesn't simply proof text his claim to be the Messiah. He doesnt say "Well theres a bit in Isaiah that relates to me, and there's an odd verse in Zechariah which scholars believe is about me." No he actually says that the whole of scripture is about him. The whole redemptive story right from Genesis, when man falls, to the end of Malachi is about the search for the Saviour, the one who will come and rescue mankind from their slavery to sin. Without Jesus, all of the OT remains unfulfilled and doesnt make complete sense. In him, all God's purposes are made clear, and the hope to which the OT was pointing is realised. It was all clear, if only they had read their Old Testaments and listened to Jesus.
Now this is of vital importance to us today. The problem with many of us Christians is that we have very little understanding of what the OT is about. We wrongly assume that the OT is all about wrath and law, whereas the NT is about grace and peace. In fact that's a misunderstanding of what the OT is about- The OT is just as full of God's grace as is the NT and the NT is just as full of God's wrath and anger as the OT. Both complement each other, the one explains the other. In fact we can't really fully understand Jesus and his mission without reading our OT's. The OT wasn't the dummy run that went wrong, Plan A. God has only ever had one plan, that is to save the world by sending his Son to die on the cross. And the whole of scripture tells this remarkable story. Someone has said that the OT is Jesus predicted, the gospels are Jesus revealed, the Acts are Jesus preached, the Epistles are Jesus taught and the Revelation is Jesus expected. And it's the road to Emmaus that Jesus shows this to be the case. It must have been a remarkable hour or so. But it shows that we can have utmost confidence in Jesus' death and resurrection because it was planned long ago. I often wonder whether in our chats with non Christian friends we ought to be more happy to open up all the scriptures with them and show how the whole plan fits together. It really is incredible. So delve into your OTs and discover Gods plan in Jesus. For the second piece of evidence for the resurrection that we learn from this road to Emmaus is the evidence of the Old Testament.
3) The Evidence of Personal Experience (vv 28-35)
But then lastly there is the evidence of personal experience. And actually this is the binding force behind the other two pieces of evidence. For in reality the evidence of a changed life in real experience is a most powerful testimony of the resurrection of Christ; the fact that people have met him, not simply the first disciples, but also many people down the ages. Let's see what happened to Cleopas and his friend, vv 28-32. Back in verse 16, we are told that when Jesus first came up alongside them, they were kept from recognising him. Now it's an obvious question to ask why they didn't recognise him, but the answer seems clear from the passage when we look at it again. In verse 16, the verb is passive, they were kept from recognising him, hinting at something outside of themselves keeping them from recognising Jesus. And again in verse 31, the verb is again passive. It's not "they opened their eyes", but "their eyes were opened." Luke points to the fact that recognising Jesus is a God given gift. Only at the right time do they recognise the Son of God as the risen Lord, and it's something that was revealed to them. To know Jesus personally is something we cannot simply fathom for ourselves by examining the evidence. It is a spiritual gift which is given by God. It is a change in our hearts which only God can give. And they know it in their hearts, verse 32, "Were not our hearts burning within us when he explained the scriptures to us?" Now they hadn't recognised Jesus at that stage, but even as he explained the scriptures to them, their hearts burned. Jesus' words had blazed within their souls as he opened scripture to them.
And they are so excited they rush back the 7 miles to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples, risking bandits and wild beasts on the road. And when they get back, they find the same has happened to Simon Peter in verse 34, "It's true, The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" And it's the same Lord who died on the cross who is now risen. The disciples are in no doubt it's him. Now there are certainly different things about him. He can appear whenever he wants and disappear just as quickly, but there are no doubts this is Jesus back from the dead. It's no ghost, as Luke will show us in next weeks passage. It is Jesus himself risen from the dead.
One writer, Frank Morrison, set out to write a book disproving once and for all that the resurrection did not happen. He ended up convinced by the evidence and became a Christian and his first chapter is entitled, "The Book that Refused to be Written, showing that he simply wasnt able to write a book about the false claim f the resurrection. In the preface to the book, he writes this: "It is not that the facts themselves altered, for they are recorded imperishably in the monuments and the pages of human history. But the interpretation to be put upon the facts underwent a change. Somehow the perspective shifted, not suddenly in a flash of insight or inspiration, but slowly almost imperceptibly, by the very stubbornness of the facts themselves." The difference was Morrison met Jesus Christ personally. And that is something millions upon millions can testify to down the years. Jesus is alive today. And we can know him. And that is the third piece of evidence that Luke gives us in this passage. The evidence of personal experience.
So how can we apply the things we have learnt from this passage this evening? Well first we can have absolute confidence that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead. There is the witness of the empty tomb, there's the witness of scripture, both OT and NT and there's also the witness of personal experience, both followers of Jesus then, and followers of Jesus now. But if Jesus really did rise from then the dead, then second it must have a impact on our lives. If he really did rise and is alive and now reigns as King, then it means we too can meet him, just as the two disciples of the Emmaus road, and like my friend. We need not fear death because we know the one who defeated it and returned from the grave. We can live our lives knowing that we do have a sure anchor, a God who won't break his promise, who will never let us down, and whose trust is worth giving our whole lives too. He's kept his promise throughout scripture and won't break it now. We are able to walk with him personally for the rest of our lives and for eternity, because he rose from the dead and is alive today.
Well the discussion in that banqueting hall way back in 627AD had not quite finished. Youll remember that the speaker had likened human life to the flight of a sparrow, going in one door of the hall and out the other, having only the briefest of time in the warmth. But he didnt stop there. He went on: "If this Christianity has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it." And then the last speaker in the hall, the High Priest of their pagan religion, said these words: "I have long realised that there is nothing in our way of worship; for the more diligently I sought after the truth in our religion, the less I found. I now publicly confess that this Christianity clearly reveals truths that will afford us the blessings of life, salvation and eternal happiness." Hes right isnt he? Why? Because Jesus rose from the dead and is alive today. Someone has come back for the room next door. So lets our lives joyfully and confidently in the knowledge that of that true and certain hope.
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